So much of teenage life is about looking forward—to college, first jobs or living away from home. Two new YA graphic novels with LGBTQ+ storylines artfully play with this idea. In one, looking too far forward could mean missing an amazing present, and the other shows how hard it is to move on when the past is filled with secrets and lies.
In Kevin Panetta’s Bloom, Ari is ready for his real life to begin. An apartment in the city with friends and the chance for his band to break out are all Ari can focus on, to his parents’ dismay. Their family bakery needs his help to stay afloat, but Ari is so determined to go that he posts a flyer advertising his bakery job as available. Only one applicant, Hector, has an aptitude for baking, and while Ari trains him, the two begin to grow close. Can Ari reconcile his dream for his future with his new reality?
Artist Savanna Ganucheau’s illustrations show us the charm of the seaside town Ari is so ready to bail on; you can practically hear the surf in the background and see the tourists wandering past. The fracture lines in his friendships grow as his focus on work is renewed and his feelings for Hector become more serious. Readers see Ari’s focus changing, but it stings when his friends seem to be moving on without him.
Viewed one way, Bloom tells a small story of two boys who meet and fall in love while beginning to face adulthood. But because it’s set at a time in life when being totally self-obsessed (while lacking any self-awareness) is the norm, it feels bigger than the sum of its parts. Long scenes of Ari and Hector simply baking together are deeply romantic, and they each have complex backstories (including family, exes and friends you love but sometimes want to slap silly) that make us care more about their happiness. Grab a red velvet cupcake and take a bite of this sweet story.
Kiss Number 8 is a story with a hairpin turn that readers will not see coming—and which will not be spoiled here. Rather than wanting to move on like Ari, Mads is in the sweet spot—happy at her Catholic school, a regular at Sunday mass and has friends who keep her grounded (Laura) and appeal to her wilder side (Cat). She’s kissed a bunch of thoroughly “meh” guys before realizing her idolization of Cat might be something more than friendship. Then things start getting complicated.
Author Colleen AF Venable’s story pivots in ways that recall the classic TV show “My So-Called Life.” Mads’ dad has a secret that drives a wedge between them, and Mads convices steadfast Laura to help her research what he’s hiding. Cat starts to enter into more adult spaces where she gets drunk, kisses more boys, and ignores her feelings about it all. If you’re concerned as to how a Catholic kid will fare in what turns out to be a very queer story, you should be; religion is the family’s safety net right up until it threatens to rip and drop them all.
Sometimes high school friendships fade, and sometimes an action that can’t be taken back blows them to smithereens. But Mads has family who are ultimately able to see what’s important and support her, even as they struggle to reconcile their feelings about the secret she uncovers. Kiss Number 8 is honest about how hard it can still be to come out, and it reflects on the grief felt by generations for whom it was never an option, but this story is ultimately hopeful.